Monday, September 6, 2010

This Must Be the Place: UConn

My continuing effort to frame the 2010 football season within the context of songs by the Talking Heads:

Home, is where I want to be.

I certainly felt at home Saturday afternoon.  That feeling has been a long time coming.  There was a certain comfort and security that hung over my Michigan fandom early in life.  I went into every season with the explicit expectation that the team would win the Big Ten and challenge for the national championship.  You can probably blame this on 1997 national championship, which happened just around the time I really started to understand the games I was watching in the greater context of seasons and programs and history.  Before the 1997 national championship I rooted for UM because my father did, and that meant by extension I did too.  After the national championship my love of Michigan football was now crystallized in the realization that the team I loved was the best, whether they really were or not.  The love grew from there until I finally joined in to that game day tradition as a student.  Blue was always the only way to go.

However, to say that my feelings about "Michigan exceptionalism" have been shaken to the core over the past two and a half years is somewhat of an understatement.  Nuked back to the stone age is a more apt description.  It used to be said that simply donning the winged helmets in the Big House was worth two touchdowns.  The last two years it is unclear exactly what team was the recipient of those touchdowns.  Bowl streaks have ended, losing seasons have been recorded not once but twice, and   gasp   NCAA violations have been uncovered.  The days of blind optimism on that first fall Saturday have been replaced by weeks of frantically reading reports from fall camp, pouring over depth charts, and consuming every scrap of information in an effort to convince myself that the win I want to be so sure of is guaranteed like it always felt when I was younger.  Of course I know better now.  Not only because of my deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the team, but also because I have grown more rational in my fandom.  My mouth says the words, "of course Michigan will win," but my heart doesn't always believe.  I know better now.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia on Saturday afternoon as UM marched down the field after a quick three and out.  Pounding the ball for six, seven, or eight yards a pop while UConn's defense tried in vain to guess where the next strike would come.

This must be the place.  Right?

I may never return to the blind optimism of my childhood.  The days when UM took the field with the outcome already known in my head, even when it wasn't.  I know too much about the state of the program today, too much about the landscape of college football, too much about the sheer luck involved in these things.  The blindfold is off, and there is no turning back.

But it is still nice to feel like I am home.  To get lost in an afternoon just loving the thrill of victory.  The exaltation that comes with dominating an opponent.  To just cheer on the maize and blue, for better or worse.

And then have it all work out in the end.


I haven't had a chance to rewatch the game yet, and even if I do I don't know if a full fledged post will come out of it.  There are a lot more people out there who are much more qualified to make judgement on the performance of the team by studying the video.  That said, there are a few positives and negatives that I took away from the team's performance Saturday.


  • The defensive line did a good job containing UConn's experienced running game, but I was disappointed that they did not manage to get more pressure on Frazer.  I know there were no sacks, and I can't remember a single knock down.  On this day the team was fortunate that UConn put pressure on themselves with hurried throws and drops, but in the future the defensive line will need to do more damage up front.  Even against a big experienced offensive line, this group of lineman needed to make more noise.
  • On the other side of the ball, the offensive line did a good job getting downfield for blocks, but it was disconcerting to see the runningbacks struggle as much as they did between the tackles.  The lack of production from anyone other than Robinson (who nearly matched the combined YPC of Smith and Shaw) could put too large a burden on the quarterback position going forward.  Twenty-nine carries is not a sustainable number.  If the rest of the running game doesn't pick up the slack we could be in trouble once in the Big Ten season.
  • I will give the special teams a pass this week.  Wind was a factor, as was youth.  Better grow up quick boys, missed FG's and XP's won't fly next week.
  • I will wait for the MGoBlog UFR, but it seemed like Robinson made a few incorrect reads on running plays.  This could be a function of youth, or the fact that he was the only viable option most of the afternoon to pick up substantial yards.


  • Despite my above critique, any criticism of Robinson is extremely nit-picky.  The fact is he played out of his mind and was a major reason the offense was productive at all against UConn.  Two-hundred yards on the ground and an 86% completion rate sounds like a video game stat line.  He may have a hard time matching those numbers moving forward, but any concern that his spring and fall emergence was a mirage has been put to rest.  The kid is for real.
  • The defense did a good job bottling up what should have been a good running attack.  No big gains, and a crucial forced fumble near the goal line (although I caution JT Floyd about leading with his head in the future).  This is the type of performance that the defense needed to gain confidence going in to next week.
  • On that same note, 14 for 19 on third downs is the key stat for aiding this young defense.  Converting third downs kept drives going and gave the defense time to rest.  A good, efficient offense might be the best defense for this year's team.
  • Ezeh and Mouton led the team in tackles and both seemed to play solid games.  Good to see against a solid rush team.  We will see how these linebackers hold up against a better passing team, especially one with a dangerous TE (/flashes back to Iowa/Penn State/Wisconsin last year).
  • For all the concerns about the secondary coming in to the game, they played good defense and kept themselves in good position.  UConn helped their cause by dropping a number of easy catches (while making the ridiculous catch after batting the ball ten yards down the field, go figure).  Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph won't drop those passes this week.


All in all, this was just the kind of win that this team needed.  After being widely picked to lose against an experienced UConn squad with a strong running game, Michigan came out and set the tempo early.  The defense kept UConn on it's heels while the offense scored on three of it's first four drives.  Execution will be the key for the rest of this year, and the team earned a solid A in execution on Saturday.

Bring on the Irish.

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